God’s Love with Tibetan People
Dr. Xiaoling Zhu shares information about Tibet from a recent visit.
Reverend Dr. Xiaoling Zhu
In mid-October this year, I traveled with colleagues of the Sichuan Radio and TV University (Dianda) [i] to the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomy Area in Sichuan, China. This is the fifth time I have visited the region. We covered 1,600 miles (at an average of 18 miles/hour) on a bumpy, unpaved road, passed the world’s highest road (16,564 feet), and spent the night in the world’s highest city, Litang, which is at an altitude of 13,173 feet. We traveled by SUV and experienced two flat-tires before we arrived at our destination. The trip is harsh physically because of the lack of oxygen in the high altitude of the Tibetan Plateau; the weather is drying, windy, and unpredictable.
There were two purposes for this trip: to visit the Tibetan projects implemented in the last 11 years supported by Global Ministries in the Ganzi Area, and to visit Batang where Disciple medical missionaries lived 100 years ago. This mission in Tibet is listed as the “Tibet Christian Mission” in Disciple historical records, but this information was not in China Christian Mission history records. I did not know until a few years ago that the Disciples even had a mission in the Ganzi Area for 11 years. I had tried several times to visit Batang, but couldn’t visit due to the many mud slides that occurred along the route.
Our trip started from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province, with bottled water, cans of oxygen, and winter clothes. On the way, we met some of the English teachers who were trained by our mission personnel several years ago at Dianda.
Ms. Li Fang is an English teacher at Demonstration Elementary School in Litang, the highest city in the world (13,173 feet). The living conditions are very difficult but she still unconditionally loves to teach. She teaches fifth grade English, 12 classes a week, with a monthly pay of 4,000 Yuan, about $620 US dollars. She sent her two children to live in the low lands with their grandparents, and can only be with them during the summer and winter vacations.
Mr. Daba Sangjie is the mountain village leader of Er Jia Qi Village, totaling 36 families. Global Ministries helped them to build a drinking water system – they have a spring water pool on the top of the mountain and use rubber pipe to draw water to each home. Funds and material are provided by Global Ministries and the villagers provide labs. During my visit, it was found that the funds could only help half of the families, and did not reach the families scattered nearby. The second part of the funds for this project was wired to the villagers upon my return.
The Livestock Breeding Project has been successful for years. Global Ministries supported poor herdsmen with female yaks. The herdsmen get to keep the baby yaks and agree to send a certain amount of milk products for the school children. One yak costs about $200. Many Tibetan families with an annual family income of $150 could not afford to buy a yak before this project. Giving yaks to these poor families is a great help. Four years later, the Sunrise Elementary School principal showed me the records and told me that the school still receives milk products today for the students.
We arrived in Batang (altitude 8,987 feet) at 4:00 p.m.; this town shares a border with Tibet. Once there we had time to cross the Jinsha River to pay a short visit to the Tibetan side. It was said that Batang had almost no snow in winter, so it was called “South of the Yangtze River.”[ii]
Dr. Albert Shelton was born in Indianapolis in 1875; he finished his medical schooling when he was 28 years old and went to China where he planned to provide medical services in Tibet in 1903. One hundred years ago there was no road; Shelton rode a horse and it took a month to travel from Chengdu to Tachienlu (now Kangding) in 1904. Then he traveled another month, crossed six major rivers to Batang in 1908, along with more than 20 Disciple medical staff. Shelton tried to get permission to enter Tibet, but the British authorities warned him, “If you come, you die.” So Dr. Shelton set up a 50-bed Huaxi Hospital in Batang, providing free services for both the Chinese and Tibetan peoples. Sometimes he crossed the Jinsha River to make medical visits in Tibetan villages. He was the first doctor who brought western medicine to Tibet. Often, more than 100 people carried medical supplies and walked for 500 miles, from Chengdu to Batang. At the beginning, Dr. Shelton rented a Tibetan family’s house as the hospital, and from time to time performed operations that took place in the open, surrounded by curious people, “What a miracle it is! He can put patients to sleep to cut them, and then he can make them wake up!”
Smallpox at that time was very virulent and killed almost all who came in contact with it. Dr. Shelton was able to make the smallpox vaccine and went to the village as soon as possible to vaccinate everyone. Making the vaccine was not easy; in order to do so Dr. Shelton had to find two healthy calves, and he also tested the vaccine on himself. Tibetans were divided into two groups: the first willing to be vaccinated, and second group refusing because they believed their gods would save them. The results were that the vaccinated group survived.[iii]
In Batang, missionaries also built an irrigation system and brought many different kinds of fruits and crop seeds, so that people could enjoy fruits they had never had. Even today, there are apple trees in almost every family’s yard. More importantly, Dr. Shelton provided medical treatments to wounded soldiers of both Chinese and Tibetan armies. He also helped mediate between the Chinese and Tibetan troops during a period of hostilities. Dr. Shelton was tragically killed by a mountain bandit while on medical rounds to Tibetan villages, and was buried in Batang, the place he cared for so much.
Today, people in Batang are still enjoying fruits and remembering their stories. Photos of the missionaries can be seen in the hotel where I stayed. Today’s Global Ministries work in Tibetan communities is the continuation of the Tibet Christian Mission of 100 years ago, although we were not aware of each other. We can tell Dr. Shelton: “God’s mission is still going on; Christ love is continuing.”
[i] Sichuan Radio and TV University (“Dianda” in Chinese), a Global Minsitries partner, is a distance learning school with 170,000 students all over the Sichuan Province. Dianda students brought information about the poverty in Ganzi back to the university and Dianda started to support poor in Ganzi in 2000. Global Ministries joined them in 2001. Due to their excellent work, the Sichuan Radio and TV University was honored by the State Council of China as a “Nationwide Advanced Organization of Minority Unity and Improvement” in 2009.
[ii] South of the Yangtze Rive is the triangle area of Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou, the richest agriculture area in China.
[iii] Dorris Shelton Still, Beyond the Devils in the Wind, pp 49, Synergy Books, 1989.